June 25, 2005

Tom Cruise, Matt Lauer and a media muddle

A few days ago there was the story about Tom Cruise on the Today Show being interviewed by Matt Lauer and how it turned into some brouhaha about drugs, psychiatry and so on.

Of course, the media gave us snippets - clips, quotes, etc. But I kept wondering, "Yeah, but what was actually said? What was the context?" Frankly, I don't trust those sound bites.

So ... here's what was actually said: 'I'm passionate about life' (transcript of the interview).

It seems to me the conversation was a bit muddled (as these things often are). I wouldn't call it an argument - maybe, stretching things, you could say it was a disagreement but I'd say it was more two people talking at cross purposes.

In a way, I agree with what both were saying. Cruise is correct in his assessment that drugs mask problems. This is because they tend to address symptoms. Where I think he's off base, at least a bit, is in the implicit assumption that psychiatry is all about drugs. Helping someone recognize and change destructive patterns of behaviour, without the use of drugs, is also a form of psychiatry. I'm not an expert but I don't believe treatment necessarily has to include drugs.

I suspect, from what he said, that his definition of psychiatry and mine (and perhaps Lauer's) are a bit different and, if that's the case, it explains some of the muddle. I don't equate treatment with the application of drugs (though it can include this). However, Cruise may be correct in that this may be increasingly what psychiatric treatment amounts to (as opposed to focusing on non-drug related ways of dealing with mental disorders).

Cruise, I believe, would take issue with how disorders are treated and, perhaps in some cases, even that a disorder exists.

But the issue he is really addressing is the missue and abuse of drugs - whether that be the "recreational" and street variety or the ones we like to think are medically warranted. Sometimes these latter kinds are, but we often start using them higgledy-piggledy for just about everything. ("Hmmm ... stay home and get a good night's sleep? Or take Prozac? I'll take the Prozac.")

Anyway ... read what was actually said and decide for yourself who was right, if anyone. I think you'll find it was what it was - a guy talking off the top of his head, not a research paper and, as when people talk in this way (as interviews are designed for), you'll see some is a bit muddled but his essential point comes across: people use drugs for issues that don't really require them. What's required is information, focus, a non-drug related strategy and, most important, support from people who care.

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